Sunday, March 31, 2013

More Hexenbracken + How The Hell Do You Run A Hexcrawl Anyway

Ok first thing's first:

Ramanan took the collaborative hexmap from yesterday and totally pimped it out.

That link should take you to a clickable map of the whole area, it has a few less locations marked than the map I posted yesterday but makes up for it by being super-useful. Click a hex, it takes you to the description. Click a reference to a hex in another hex and it takes you straight there.

It's also a lot easier to cut and paste the text to make your own notes than the original spreadsheet.

Also, here's some more detail on one of those hexes.

Now that that's out of the way...somebody asked me a pretty reasonable question this morning...

"Assuming I never played a hexcrawl before, where can I find advice on how to run such a thing?"

Let me see if I can get the basics down, then tell you where to look...

-The players will be either traveling overland from point to point (moving at traveling speed) and just running into stuff incidentally or carefully searching through each hex individually (moving at "mapping" or "searching" speed--which is slower). Which depends on the kind of campaign goals they have (like this one is all about mapping, while these involve both traveling and searching). Frodo and company were traveling, Lewis and Clark were searching.

-Searching characters are trying to find all the interesting stuff in an area. Traveling characters will only note the obvious stuff (mountains, huge rivers) or things that find them (angry cultists, stirges, etc)

-The key to this kind of thing is meaningful choices and choices require information. There are two traditional ways hexcrawling players can get information: A. They start with a partial map B. They look around.

-In either case, these two options should be jiggered as much as possible to present players with at least two options for how to go at all times. For traveling, the simplest choice is: Fast, dangerous route or slow, easier route. Of course the slow route is also dangerous because it gives more time to run into random encounters.

-If the players just look around (no map), they will see landmarks. Landmarks are super important. These are things PCs can see in different directions that indicate what kinda thing to expect in that direction--mountain? City? Monument? River? Without landmarks the players are just going "Hmm, east or west?" and that's totally arbitrary and boring because there's no information behind it.

-You can see 3 miles to the horizon over flat ground. If you or the landmark are higher up than flat ground and your view is unobstructed you'll see things that are farther away.

-Players walk (or ride) and you keep track of time (figure out movement speeds per hour and per day for whatever method the PCs are using). When you get to a new area figure out what's obvious and (if your players are searching) what's hidden. Tell them about the obvious thing right off "So you ride for an hour and then you see a huge rock shaped like a weasel".

-If there's an encounter, figure out whether the thing sees them or they see it first or whether they see each other simultaneously (just like a dungeon). Remember that since most hex products or maps you make are, of necessity, sketchy, you can and should embroider the hell out of what the PCs see. You do not have to stick to the description. "1047 River, Demon" can be turned into..."You see a bridge with an insect demon eating a giant pink ooze on it, there appears to be no other crossing here".

-Build up the setting around the players as they move. They meet a random cleric? If you can figure out who this is a cleric of and where the cleric's going and what temple the cleric is from you've just added lots of obstacles and resources for the players and added a layer to what's going on.

-At the end of a session, ask the players what they intend to do next session. You can prep more detail around their likely routes. The key to making a hexcrawl more than a bunch of random encounters is building relationships between locations on the map--a good hex map will have these seeded in to begin with, but there's always room for more.

-If your players are searching, remember there's lots of room in a hex for stuff no matter how small. Don't have any ideas? That's what all these goddamn random tables are for.

-A lotta times, if they're just traveling, the PCs will come upon nothing special in a given hex, that's ok.


Other stuff I wrote:

An example,  motivations for PCs in a sandbox, making your own sandbox (the bottom-up method)

Other useful resources for this kinda campaign:

-AD&D DMG pages 47-49

-Random hex key generator

-Making your own sandbox (by bat--from the top down method)

-The OSR Wisdom Wiki (particularly scroll down to "Wilderness Adventures")

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Hexenbracken

What the inhabitants of the area known to the people of the north as the Hexenbracken call it is not known.

What is known is that it is characterized by shipwrecks, goblin raiders, and a very thin veil between this world and the next. There are rumors of hyperintelligent monkeys, Queen Jane suspects an insect cult in the south, and the central mountains are dominated by the ruins of an ancient black marble city.

Nearby kingdoms fear great power shifts in the wake of the wedding of 7 ogre magi.

Original terrain map by Brendan, place names added by some Random Wizard, and a few bits added by me

The Hexenbracken was created hex-by-hex over the last few days by a ton of people on Google + and despite a certain amount of democratic noise that you'd expect from anything like this, I can say with my hand on my heart that it has a smaller percentage of stupid things in it than any other hexcrawl product I can think of.

At 6 miles per hex, it is approximately the width of Kansas...

Zak SmithYesterday 2:11 AM (edited)
07 20 Dwarves hunting wereboars ( 06 19 ) through the ruins of a vast temple complex that used to be adjacent to Vyrvalis ( 01 17 )

Anders NordbergYesterday 2:32 AM (edited)
07 21 Camp of the Dwarven expedition searching for clues to the secrets of Vervalis ( 01 17 ) in the nearby Dwarf Skeleton Dungeon ( 06 20 ). Most are hunting boars in the nearby forest ( 07 20 ).

M NicksicYesterday 2:49 AM (edited)
07 22
At the junction of two major trade routes, a low, rambling inn does a brisk business selling barbecued pork to travelers. They will grillanything for the right price.

Wayne SnyderYesterday 3:58 AM
07 23 A shallow lake completely fills this grim valley. The water is murky, almost black with silt and infested with giant eels.

Mike EvansYesterday 4:32 AM (edited)
07 24- A group of twenty two statues of ugly haggard woman that face away from one another, circled around carving of full moon.  Babbling and nonsensical mutterings are heard passing between them.  When the moon is full the statues face each other and sing warnings of 4.16. 

Jeff RientsYesterday 4:42 AM
0725 Stankbog, muddy human village of 150 wretches that worship the Great Swamp Gas, a nearby Will-o-Wisp.



Random Wizard has kindly put the entire key in Google Doc format here.

To edit it, double click on a cell and you should be able to change it around.

To get rid of a hex you don't like, click "Edit" and then "Delete Row (whatever)"

The "find and replace" function can be used to change (for example, just saying) any "owlbear" to a  "flail snail" or any "bard" to a "corpse", turn snow leopards into leopards or jackals or whatever fits your setting etc etc.

Also, if you want to get a handle on the overall ecology or anthropology of the area, you can do a search for, say "witch" or "dwarf" or "frog" just to see what's going on. And if there is a particular contributor whose stuff you like (or don't) you can search for their ideas.

You should also be able to save it as a pdf no sweat.

If you notice any settlements or other major landmarks not noted on the map above, lemme know--when you're running a hexcrawl it's good to be able to see what's around the party at a glance.

So....have fun with that.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

This Is Why Ruins of Undermountain Is 234 Pages Long

This isn't even the whole room description--there are 2 bugbears you fight first.

End of the Black Banners

The corpses, very recently slain, consist of three bugbears and seven human men. One bugbear lies atop a man, and another man is sprawled on top of a bugbear. The other bodies are strewn about the room. Each bugbear corpse lacks any armor, but has a club and a warhammer; one also has a short sword.

The men were all novice adventurers, newly arrived from troubled Tethyr to try their fortunes here. They know nothing of Waterdeep, having teleported to Undermountain via a gate in Calimport. DMs are free to develop adventures, tales, and information that these dead men can reveal under a speak with dead spell. They called themselves “The Black Banner Band," and their members’ bodies are as follows.

A youngish, bearded man in robes lies twisted atop the knapsack still strapped to his back, a quarter staff still clutched in his hands. His skull is crushed, and a brass ring gleams on one finger. 

This was Thanriyon Arkhelt, a NG 2nd level wizard. His robes of worn and patched black cotton are belted at the waist, and scabbarded at the belt is a dagger +1 that glows when it is drawn. In fact, it glows with a faint amber radiance all the time, whether the bearer wants it to or not; dispel magic will temporarily negate this effect, for 1 turn per level of the caster. Its radiance is bright enough to read by, when the writing is near the blade, but not bright enough to illuminate areas more than 5’ from the bearer.

In the wizard’s knapsack are a shattered flask of water (now soaking everything else!), three broken tallow candles, a tinder box and two pieces of flint, one of which has been sharpened to a cutting edge, a cotton drawstring purse containing 6 gp and 2 cp, and a book made of four thin wooden boards pierced with holes and laced together with leather thongs. This crude traveling spell book bears the spells burning hands, dancing lights, mending, shocking grasp, spider climb, and Tenser’s floating disc.

 A burly, hairy man in hacked and broken plate armor lies in a puddle of blood, a small sack still tied to his belt. The sword that killed him— evidently his own—protrudes from his side, nicked and dulled from contact with his armor. 

This was Erun Hrom Thlyndor, once of Zazesspur, a LN 3rd level fighter. His long sword is dull but still usable, and his armor can be salvaged to provide partial (AC 4) protection to a large human. His belt is cut in two places, but the dagger sheathed at one hip is unused. Erun’s sack contains a small hide purse (of 6 gp, 11 sp, and 4 cp), a round, hard loaf of good bread, and a scrap of clean linen wrapped around a hand-wheel of cheese.

 A man with long, blond hair, clad in chain mail, lies face down atop one of the bugbear corpses. 

This was Andaron Irithar, a CG 1st level priest of Tymora. His neck has been broken; on a fine chain around it is the palm-sized, lacquered silver circle of Tymora—a holy symbol of real silver, worth 5 sp.

In one smashed hand, crumpled under his body, Andaron still clutches his mace. Also under his body, strapped to his belt, is a leather satchel. It holds four rather bruised apples, a cloth bag containing five oat cakes tied into a shallow wooden bowl with string, and a small canvas bag of kindling.

Andaron’s belt is very thick and sturdy. Anyone examining it finds that it is fashioned of three layers of hide; one end of the front layer undoes at a catch and peels away to reveal sixteen slits in the middle layer. Six of these slits hold a gold piece each; the rest are empty.

 A slim man with a moustache and short-trimmed, oily black hair lies on his back, the two pieces of a broken short sword beside him. He wears gray leather armor and soft leather boots and gloves. A dagger is clutched in one hand, and a dull, spreading stain low on his chest tells of his death by spearpoint.

This was Havildar Oremmen, of Port Kir, a CN 4th level thief. He has a second dagger sheathed on the inside of his left boot. His right boot has a hollow heel, reachable by removing it from his foot, and peeling back the insole; in the tiny cavity within is a scrap of coarse muslin, wrapped around three dark gray, red-flecked gems: bloodstones, each worth 50 gp. At his belt is a small canvas purse, armored with a metal plate that curves to cover its inward face, outside, and bottom. It is his “public purse,” and contain only 2 gp, 1 sp, and 3 cp.

Inside the sleeves of his jerkin, Havildar has strapped two things he wanted to hide. Strapped to his left forearm just inside the elbow is a flat leather pouch containing a set of thieves’ picks and a folding spike-grapnel. Strapped to Havildar’s right forearm is his “private purse,” a flat leather pouch holding 6 pp and 3 gp.

Around his midriff, under his armor, Havildar wears a coil of thin, waxed cord of dull gray hue: a climbing rope 70’ in length.

A man with a small, black spade beard and an old, puckered scar on his left cheek lies on his back, his battle axe atop him. One arm lies at an odd angle, and his back is twisted and arched. He wears scale mail, and lies atop what is left of a battered, split shield, still strapped to one arm. His plain iron helm, crushed like an eggshell, lies nearby. 

This is Baerkyn Urundul, once of Baldur’s Gate, a CN 3rd level fighter. The blows that broke his arm and back did not ruin his mail or his axe. Baerkyn is wearing (non-magical) metal gauntlets of very fine make. If they are removed, a gold ring (worth 3 gp) will be visible on the middle finger of his right hand.

Baerkyn’s belt has an ornate, snarling-lion-head brass buckle (worth 2 cpl, and bears a scabbarded broad sword and dagger. His canvas purse, also on his belt, contains 14 gp, 11 sp, 15 cp, and a bronze good luck charm: the sword of Tempus, Lord of Battles.

A red-haired, stubble-faced man in studded leather armor lies half-buried beneath the body of a bugbear. A sack and a broken iron lantern lie beneath one of the man’s outflung legs.

This was Delbarran Thundreir, a NG 2nd level fighter from Zazesspur. If the bugbear body is shifted to examine Delbarran, one of his arms is still clutching the hilt of a short sword, buried deeply in the bugbear’s body. His other arm holds a splintered wooden shield across his chest in a vain attempt to protect himself from a bugbear spear attack; in the end, that attack came from the rear.

Delbarran wears worn and rusty studded leather armor. His belt carries a sheathed dagger and a purse containing only a candle-end and 2 cp. The sack under his foot contains only a blanket, a spare pair of (well-worn, and quite large) boots, and the brass hilt of a broken dagger. The lantern is of the candle-and-reflector type; its shutter is completely shattered, and its candle has disintegrated into tiny wax shards, but the rest could be straightened, to serve as a lantern lacking any hood for its light.

 A brown-haired man in studded leather armor lies sprawled atop a polearm, a sack fallen by his outstretched hand. 

This was Hortil Gundelbar, a NG 1st level fighter of Brost. He died of a shattered skull, and never had time to wield his bill (polearm: bill-guisarme, which remains undamaged. He also has a hand axe and a dagger, both thrust in his belt, and a belt-purse containing 2 sp, 6 cp, and a whetstone wrapped in an oily cloth.

In Hortil’s sack are a loaf of bread, a large leathern flask of fiery amber Calishite wine, and two unbroken stoppered glass vials of holy water.

7 male adventurer corpses, 3 bugbears, 3 clubs, 3 warhammers, 2 short swords, tinder and flint, 28 gp, 27 sp, 32 cp, spellbook: burning hands, dancing lights, mending, shocking grasp, spider climb, and Tenser’s floating disc, long sword damaged plate armor (AC 4), dagger, 1 weeks rations, silver holy symbol (Tymora), mace, 3 daggers, chainmail, 2 axes, gauntlets, broad sword, wooden shield, studded leather armor, blanket, boots, hoodless lantern, bill-guisarme, 2 vials of holy water.

Dagger +1 (Glows faint amber always; dispel magic temporarily negates this effect, for 1 turn per level of the caster. Not bright enough to illuminate areas more than 5’ from the bearer.)

Hidden on bodies: 6 pp, 162 gp worth of stuff, dagger, thieves' tools, folding grappling hook.

The men were all novice adventurers, newly arrived from troubled Tethyr. They know nothing of Waterdeep, having teleported to Undermountain via a gate in Calimport. They called themselves "“The Black Banner Band."


If you're more into the whole brevity thing than Ed Greenwood was and in my Google + RPG circle, help us out with keying this hex map.

The 56 Good Ideas In Expedition To The Ruins of Greyhawk

Finishing up the Expedition To The Ruins Of Greyhawk scrape-through.

The nice thing (by which I mean the lazy, dull thing) about Expedition is there aren't very many interesting structural things about the set-up of either the plot or the dungeon.

This makes it pretty easy to use the parts you like in isolation, or to recombine them in ways that make about as much sense when you're done as they did to begin with.

So anyway, here are all the good ideas in Expedition To The Ruins of Greyhawk organized by type...


, when the PCs arrive, the bad guys are killing witnesses
, afterward, the PCs are contacted by two investigators about what they saw--the first is pretending to be legit, the second is

(this second batch of investigation ideas is technically about a different investigation, but they could be melded into one easily)
, a crime, the physical evidence traces it back to a shopkeeper who suggests 3 suspects
, culprit "protected" by boss who doesn't like him
, slutty wife of boss, spied on at all times

(some city NPCs)
, zoo owner offers money for monsters brought back alive
, unscrupulous map dealer
, taxidermist
, two prisoners in the jail: the first one offers the PCs a reward for getting the other to reveal the location of a magic ring, the other loudly and publicly offers the PCs a reward to kill the other one in his cell.

(other stuff that is best placed outside the dungeon)
, a ring in an item shop turns out to be the only way to open one of the dungeon features
, a cult that wants to free one of the trapped demigods in the dungeon
, bad guys have city watch, cleric, etc disguises in their closet

(there are many ways to meld and recombine the interesting parts of this handful of NPCs into a more manageable number)

, dracolisk
, dark naga
, mind flayers seeking each other--one has been evicted by the other
, evicted mind flayer sends you on a quest to reclaim its lair
, mind flayer sits in a chamber, meditating, remotely controlling combatants and creatures seeking his foe
, Livashti (impossible to summarize her awesomeness, go here then search "Boccob")
, disguised demoness trapped in a room tries to send you off to find a spell to free her
, city cleric is secretly evil and a rival to the disguised demoness in the dungeon
, woman whose prisoner/lover is a demon prince
, 5 identical creepy witch-queens on tentacles
, Quest: get a bizarro evil NPC to touch the Orb of Opposition
, lieutenant of big boss schemed against by his own sublieutenant


, inverted step pyramid in the floor with horrible effects on each step
, spell-absorbing T rex
, ape using severed plesiosaur head as weapon
, duo-dimension card guys
, intellect devourers
, aboleth juice and tentacles lying around area of the fight 
, ventriloquism to make dead aboleth talk
, redcaps won't fight in even numbers
, Warhammer goblin-types on juggernaut
, boss pattern mechanism
, suggestion: green slime is water
, librarian creates illusion of big monster to test PCs and make them waste their spells
, PCs captured and dragged to Zone of Truth
, invisible assassin who attacks when you start messing with his allies
, librarian ghost that hurls books and knocks over shelves
, looting wizard plus bodyguards and quasit--encounter happens in room full of potions and braziers


, Demon's heart suspended in mid air over 5-sided pyramid
, Prophet living in the head of a dead god of prophecy
, 9 imprisoned demigods
, skulls of the archvillain's enemies arranged along a 300 mile road


, psychedelic thought bubbles
, illusory feast=actually rotting food
, gambling shrine: you give it magic items, it gives you luck
, statue that traps you inside it if you say the command word
, a fight on a stairwell that you can collapse, killing everyone inside
, verbeegs afraid to enter the room with the bones of their shaman
, leaf--when grasped tight by an elf it becomes a key
, evil death god whose temple has been ruined by rival evil god worshippers bids you do its bidding three times--do it and you get a favor and nothing bad happens
, ancient library has a register of everyone whose been in it
, sub-boss' notes on mid-boss' fuckups for the benefit of uberboss
, rotate the statue at a door and the door cannot be opened
, the vertical dungeon area/level map


CLIMATE/TERRAIN: Radioactive sci-fantasy jungles
FREQUENCY: Very rare
MOVE: 12 they are too fat and fucked up to fly
HIT DICE: 9-12
% IN LAIR: Don't care
TREASURE TYPE: If you cut him open you might find some good stuff in there from swallowed people.
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 2-8/2-8/3-30
SPECIAL ATTACKS: Mutagen in saliva (see below)
MAGIC RESISTANCE: Pterodactrolls are all radioactive mutants so arcane magic has a chance of mutating them further
ALIGNMENT: Neutral (Upset)
SIZE: L (15' tall)
      Attack/Defense Modes: Nil

Pterodactrolls are horrible wallowing carnivorous mutant things that happen if you leave chaos alchemists alone too long in isolated places beyond time. Their ability to regenerate makes them ideal test subjects. They usually just sit there in cages hating life but occasionally someone will stuff one into a narrow corridor as a way of keeping intruders out. On a successful bite (the 3-30 attack) the victim must save or develop a minor mutation in d4 days.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Expedition To Suddenly Less Sucking Than I Expected, Part 7

After 148 pages and 6 blog entries we come to the last, longest, and (who knew?) best chapter of Expedition To The Ruins Of Greyhawk.

Last time the PCs found the boss, beat the boss, then the boss' boss came and smacked around that boss, then the pseudomom of that new boss showed her fake son who was boss.

Because unbeknownst to the boss of the first boss, the first boss was the boss of this homemade magical copy of his own boss' mom which he wanted to use to undermine his boss. But now that her boss has been slain by his boss, she has no boss and so wants to use the Godtraps of Castle Greyhawk to turn her into a true mom of the second boss and not just a copy of that mom.

Got it? No? Whatever, just follow the breadcrumbs until there's a Witch Queen.

Breadcrumb one is a glowwy fairy who is like Help Me PCs You're My Only Hope.

The glowwy fairy is like "Listen, my boss has been trapped by the fake momboss! To her we must go."

Why would the PCs believe anyone who asked them to do anything in this adventure? Believing people around here just gets you kidnapped by cults, pinned between warring demonesses, drinking green slime, researching pointless spells, and duped by larcenous sidequest thieves.

Probably because if they've made it this far through Expedition they've learned that when you almost die fighting a boss and then the GM turns the page and there's someone saying The Princess Is In Another Castle you pretty much suspend all judgment or urge to roleplay and bend over and follow the bouncing ball or else play some other game…
(Note to self: make bouncing breadcrumb ball magic item out of mixed metaphor.)
“I have only one real clue—a cryptic verse whispered to me by a lillend oracle who lives in the head of a dead god of prophecy on the Astral Plane! Perhaps you can make heads or tails of it: 

Watched above by hawks of gray, deep below old castle’s clay,
Guest of madness lost from ken, your mistress waits in Zagig’s den.

Under ziggurat crowned with fire, beyond the room of rainbow’s ire,

Lonely mistress filled with rage, caught within a pretty cage. "

Ok, the third line doesn't scan, but I'm inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to anybody who  lives in the head of a dead god.
What stands between you and the glowwy's lonely boss? Bosses. Lots of bosses. Which may not be the cleverest answer, but it's a good one, because boss fights are what this module does best. Boss fights and call-backs to old TSR adventures.

At this point there isn't much plot left and the overall dungeon design, as usual, isn't really interesting--despite what it looks like on paper, it's essentially linear with chokepoints you need to pass on the way to the Final Goal, and most of the moving parts are too isolated to interact with each other very much--the aurumvoraxes won't chase you past the gates of their lair, the Orb of Opposition doesn't work on anyone but its intended target, the Room Where Whatever A Wizard Thinks Up Becomes Real So Long As Its In That Room has miles of hallway and a dracolisk between it and anyone you could use it to fuck with, the shrinking effect is localized to the Wonderland encounter, the big boss doesn't change her plan if you attack her then get scared and leave and come back later, etc.

So all we're left with is a list of rooms which are good (big text) or aren't good, including….

-Red caps (which amount pretty much to mischievous, tinkery Warhammer goblins) riding a mechanical juggernaut they reanimated while one shoots bolts at you from an arrow slit. The juggernaut has a "boss pattern" to its magic attacks (it's a machine, after all) and, fairy-taleically, the Redcaps refuse to fight in even numbers.

-A lich who the PCs interrupt in the lab dissecting an aboleth. The lich turns invisible--I know, I know, but listen--then he uses ventriloquism to make the severed aboleth head talk and threaten the PCs. Plus there's jars of aboleth juice and spare tentacles scattered throughout the room that'll slowly turn the PCs into only-water-breathers if they touch them.

-A pair of intellect devourers. Not too complicated but their mind control and confusion powers are interesting, plus, y'know, giant walking brains with claws.

-Yellow musk creepers with zombie bulettes. Not my bag but, hey, somebody's trying, nice to hear.

-A mind flayer looking for the other mind flayer earlier in the adventure (via remote control of a hook horror) who is mentally remote-controlling some hook horrors. It's nice that, unlike with the dragons and beholders, there's an actual in-game reason for the multiple supposedly-exotic high level monsters.

-Dracolisk. Not a very interesting encounter, but I like Dracolisks--and it seems to fit what's going on down here in the dark more than the blue dragon, asian dragon, wyvern and skeletal dragon. So between this and the intellect devourers I'm giving Expedition one style point.

-A thief and a bard. Guh.

-Dork with a horn he blows and a skeletal dragon.

-A Wonderland-themed throne room where you fight the Red Queen, some card guards, and an old Greyhawk wizard with a .357. Not my kinda crazy but, again, someone was trying (and referencing old Greyhawk stuff) and the fact that the card guys have a duo-dimension effect (impossible to see from the side) is cool, I wish I'd thought of that for A Red and Pleasant Land

-An ape who hits you with the severed head of a dead plesiosaur it was eating on a beach (why is there a beach in a dungeon? Long story, not good). It's kind of like if Rachel just farted in the middle of the Voigt-Kampff scene in Blade Runner. "Is this testing whether I'm a Replicant or a plllrrrrrrrrt". You wouldn't say it fits, but you'd have to be really boring not to appreciate it.

-An illusory feast and drink that compels you to eat it but really You're eating maggots, Michael

-A spell-absorbing T Rex named The Dormant King in a pool of psychic interdimensional mind bubbles. The actual spell absorption effects are dull--absorbed spells just add to various ability scores--but I'm sure you can do better. The bubble dimension is underdeveloped but has all the parts you need if you want to get all Beyond The Black Rainbow with it.

-Old Man Joke: A waiting room--bright blue walls, an unseen servant takes your hat a magic mouth says "Zagig will be with you shortly".

-Another Old Man Joke: A belt of giant strength +4 made of pink lace that constantly emits scandalous moaning sounds and ridiculous grunts when worn, negating any Move Silently checks and penalizing all Charisma-based skill checks by –6 (marked “Has its Uses”)

--Shockingly Lame Puzzle Seemingly Meant To Forever Discredit The Idea Of All-Character-Skill-No-Player-Skill Challenges Forever #1:

You are in a large chamber, seated in a semicircle with your friends. At the front of the room, your teacher—a powerful wizard named Slerotin—is lecturing you on the nature of the true magic that lies beyond what mortals can shape into spells. This, he says, is power magic, and its direct manipulation is what allows the Suel Imperium—your home—to prosper in the face of adversity. Eventually, your teacher turns to you and asks you to repeat the lesson to him.

No matter how the PCs respond to the question, each can attempt a DC 20 Spellcraft check. If at least one succeeds, the teacher smiles, and the group gains 1 [mcguffin acquisition] point. If everyone fails, feelings of shame overcome all the PCs, and each takes 2 points of Wisdom damage before the vision fades.

-Shockingly Lame Puzzle Seemingly Meant To Forever Discredit The Idea Of All-Character-Skill-No-Player-Skill Challenges Forever #2:

The false Iggwilv (the final fucking boss you won't meet for ages) knows the command words to operate this prison, and she is unlikely to reveal them. However, she possesses a tome written by Zagig that chronicles the prison’s creation and records its command words. (Where that is they don't say.)

Perhaps the simplest way to free Shenda from the prison, however, is through the Use Magic Device skill. A successful DC 30 Use Magic Device check allows a character to utter the correct command word by happenstance.
-A version of Wizard-choosing scene from Willow. This tests player skill--but since the player skill is the ability to have seen and remembered what happened in Willow, it's still stupid.

-A demon encounter inside an inverted stepped pyramid where each step toward the center has a different and more horrible effect than the last, so falling really sucks.

-Ichor shrine--the actual encounter is just another pile of losers but:

When Fraz-Urb’luu was finished with Telvechus, he left the demon’s heart suspended in the air above a five-sided pyramid designed to leach energy from it in the form of ichor and store it in bubbling pools below.
-And just when you thought Chapter 6 could not possibly be more metal:

Along the curved northern wall stand seven statues that once depicted Boccob in loving detail, but each has been warped by magic—one now sports demonic horns, another seems to be eviscerating himself with his own holy symbol, a third is eating the pages of a spellbook, and the others have been altered in other bizarre ways. To the south stands a pulpit, its stone floor awash in gore and filth, next to an eighth statue of Boccob that has been covered with blood and excrement. At the edge of the dais is a stone altar crawling with vermin.

...Livashti prepares for their arrival by draping some chains over her ankles and wrists and lying down on the altar. She then directs the blaspheme [undead duplicate] Riggby to stand over her and act as if he is about to sacrifice her in Boccob’s name...
 If she can trick a lone PC into clambering up onto the pulpit to “save” her,  Livashti attempts to dominate him. If successful, she orders her new ally to pretend to untangle her chains while calling out to his allies to stay back and fight “that monstrous undead menace.” In the meantime, Livashti directs the dominated character to use any protective magic items, spells, potions, and resources he might have to protect her. Then she cowers behind her new ally and begins casting her short-duration protective spells on herself—particularly divine favor and spell immunity to any spells the PCs seem to be casting a lot.

Once the blaspheme has been destroyed, Livashti telepathically orders her dominated ally to clutch his head and shriek out, “My mind! It’s in my mind now!” and then attack his one-time friends...

This combat should be the second toughest that the PCs face in the adventure, and they might be forced to flee. If they do so, Livashti does not stay idle here. She leaves the prison, teleports to Greyhawk, and immediately begins the process of tracking down the PCs, hoping to murder them one at a time if she can’t magically control them.
That's a god damn villain. I want her phone number.

-Remember how waaaaaay back in the introduction to the module it made you read about Zuoken the incongruous monk? That was for no reason. Zuoken doesn't do anything in this module. Motherfucker was just taking up space they could've used for more Livashti.

-Also, the touching-Billarro's-hand-to-the-orb-to-make-him-Robilar again quest isn't as cool as it should've been. Billarro's just tied up in the final boss room, you don't have to chase him down or bean him with it or anything.

-The rest of the final encounter is nicely disturbing though…

Five identical human females are held aloft in ghostly tentacles* of energy. Four other tentacles caress the southernmost gemstone. Flashes of energy travel down the four writhing arms and up into each of the five women. “You are too late!” cries one triumphantly. “You cannot stop us now!” says another with malicious glee.

Only one is the real evil mom copy, the rest are just creepy disguised demons.

Ok, so the disguise thing may be getting overused by this point but they are demons, after all and it's nice to see them used as something other than horned damage bears.

So this last chapter is fulla goodness. But is is chock fulla goodness? I mean: it's got a lot to like, but it's also rrrrrealllly long. Let's see the math:

Pages: 66
Words: 54, 185
Good Ideas: 16 a good idea every 4 anna quarter pages. I'll call that a happy ending--after a slow beginning and a middle that could give you a coronary.

Next time: The Final Idea Scrape.

* (relax, they're just good friends)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

We Now Interrupt Me Babbling About A Module To Bring You Kimberly Kane Dressed As Wonder Woman

Our party's Barbarian/Druid in her costume for the upcoming Wonder Woman porn movie. More Greyhawk tomorrow probably.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Advanced Unseen Fiendish Librariankin, Part Six

"Gygax Zagig built the Tower of Magic for one purpose—to teach others about his often controversial and always unorthodox theories of magic. But as his quest to become a god consumed greater and greater amounts of Zagig’s energy, his apprentices—many of whom were quite good game designers powerful in their own right—shouldered more and more of the burden of managing the tower and the chambers below. Zagig took no notice of the rivalries that sprang up among his followers, or of the factions that formed within the student body. Each faction was loyal to its own eccentric master, and its members were willing to do anything to stay ahead of their rivals. Alliances arose and died with regularity in the Tower of Magic as the years wore on, and the leaders of the various factions expanded greatly upon the subterranean levels below the tower in their bids for supremacy.

"When Zagig finally left the Material Plane, he did so without even saying good-bye to his apprentices. Some understood and remained loyal—indeed, more than a few actually aided in establishing Zagyg’s church. The majority, however, viewed Zagig’s abandonment as the final insult. Open warfare tore through the Tower of Magic as the conflicts between the factions escalated and grew bloody. Some factions opened tunnels to the Underdark to forge allegiances with White Wolf drow, story-gamers  kuo-toa, and other evil denizens. Others turned to retrocloning, necromancy or video games  golemcraft to bolster their ranks, and at least one sought aid from collectible card games the Lower Planes. It wasn’t long before the battle for supremacy came to its inevitable end, with the majority of the apprentices slain and huge sections of the dungeons under the control of monstrous “warlords.”

Is this a metaphor or is it just the intro to Chapter Five?

Nothing is certain in this Let's Mine Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk series except that if it was a good idea, it'd be in 48 point type.


For example, what the fuck is up with this guy...

"Just south of the surface ruins of the Tower of Magic stands a strange, pyramid-shaped structure that serves as home to a small group of human priests of Zagyg. Their leader is a man known only as Grandfather Magic (CN male human cleric 17 of Zagyg). Addressing him in any other way results in a temper tantrum that combines a storm of tears with a stream of profanity.

"Grandfather Magic’s six followers are all relatively young and inexperienced (male and female human clerics 2 of Zagyg)—he refuses to associate with higher-level clerics because he fears that they might try to steal his body parts and sell them as relics. As soon as a priest reaches 3rd level, Grandfather Magic sends him or her away to seek one of the 864 secret words of Zagyg. (These words might or might not exist, but Grandfather Magic uses such quests to remove imagined threats from his immediate area.)

"Recently, Grandfather Magic received a vision from Zagyg in which the god warned him that intruders would soon come to the Tower of Magic and use it for nefarious purposes. Until one of them could present him with the key to the Ruby Skull (one of dozens of strange Zagygian relics that Grandfather Magic owns), no one must be permitted to enter the tower. Filled with terror at this prospect, Grandfather Magic used a miracle spell to seal all the entrances into the dungeons that he knew about. He doesn’t know about the deeper entrances from the Underdark that the forces of Iuz are using, so he has effectively barred entrance only to those who might be able to prevent the unfolding doom.

"Despite his apparently addled state, Grandfather Magic is among the most powerful clerics of Zagyg in the world. His actual name and background are left for you to devise, but for now, his sole purpose is to foil the PCs’ attempts to enter the dungeons below. He refuses to cast spells for anyone—including visiting PCs. In fact, he refuses to use his spells and abilities even to harm attackers, since he can never be sure who might be an avatar of Zagyg sent to test him. If attacked, he simply teleports away using word of recall, then returns a day later acting as if nothing had happened.

"The key to the Ruby Skull is the obsidian key that Mordenkainen presented to the PCs when they visited Zagig’s study in Chapter 4. If the PCs show it to Grandfather Magic, his eyes bulge briefly; then he snatches it while jabbering excitedly. After a brief examination of the key, he proclaims the PCs to be the people sent by Zagyg to liberate the Tower of Magic, then uses another miracle spell to remove the wards preventing surface entry into the dungeons.

"Grandfather Magic then begins to search through his robe and eventually produces a skull made of polished red crystal from one of several pockets. He then inserts the key into the skull’s left eye socket, turns it, and squeals in delight when the skull’s jaw opens, releasing a brightly colored butterfly that flutters around his head. “The butterfly of Zagyg!” he shrieks, clapping his hands. “It will show me the way to the one true portal!” Taking no further notice of the PCs, Grandfather Magic drops both the Ruby Skull and the key, then leaves the pyramid to follow the butterfly’s erratic journey through the world. Where the butterfly leads him (and whether his journey even matters in the grand scheme of things) is left to you to decide. For the PCs, the way into the dungeons is open."


This guy who shows up for ten seconds and disappears is the most developed NPC in the module.

Another metaphor, or just the product of repeated exposure to tremendous quantities of mind-altering drugs? Having already spent enough time in art school, I see no need to ask this question again.

However, now that Grandmaster Butterfly has let us back into the dungeon, I do need a metaphor myself:

The central conceit the Ruins team has used to turn the old 2nd edition D&D Greyhawk Ruins location-based adventure into a 3rd edition event-based adventure is the concept of the evil Iuz's growing army, preparing itself for war deep in the dungeon.

But the execution of this idea has a problem and the problem is this:
Basically, Iuz's army is like a bunch of Social Justice trolls. They are a varied and heterogeneous group, but in order to distinguish themselves from just random trolls independently fucking with real people in a sort of endless meaningless old school monster hotel, they have united with a common purpose.

However, since, when you meet them they don't act rationally toward that common purpose, don't respond to changed facts on the ground or ever do anything to further their cause (you can leave them alone as long as you want and they will not have progressed an inch toward their goal), in practice they still come across exactly like a group of random trolls--only in addition to the implausible, charmless old monster hotel dungeon, they add on the charmless implausibility that they keep trying to pretend they have a purpose.

And, of course, on top of all of this there's the fact that the original draw of the place they inhabit is that it's supposed to be a wondrous environment full of bizarre places and inventions left behind by an eccentric now-dead dungeon master, yet the thing's actually set up to separate them from those locations and inventions. So you're either interacting with these places and inventions or with the trolls. The trolls themselves don't seem to interact with them in any way or even really notice them.

So the basic set-up could use some work.

All that being said, especially after the drillbit to the ear that was Chapter Four I'm happy to say Chapter Five is more like it. It's not it, but it it's like it, and that's refreshing because it helps you actually run a game.

In fact, if some obscure blogger had written up Expedition's Chapter Five: Wrath of Iuz and sold it as a  3.95$ pdf, the online-o-sphere would be calling it a gonzo-dungeoncrawl masterpiece.

I've seen worse, I'll say that. As usual, the good ideas will be in big text at the end. But first, the dead wood.

Vanilla shell:
Long intro. Then some concepts that don't get used in the chapter at all, the profound oddity that is Grandfather Magic, a reminder that lots of the dungeon is missing but this is a golden opportunity to write your own rooms, then Monsters In Rooms: a pudding, some verbeeg giants, an efreet, a purple worm, a giant statue that throws a skull at you (but its not his skull so no big letters).

Missed opportunities:

-There's a place the PCs can find a map:

Included on these labels are some key points of interest to the PCs, including a large tunnel leading into the lower reaches of the Tower of War from the Underdark and a tunnel connecting the Vaults of Creation to the Tower of War dungeons. Other notes of interest include troop placements, some dan- gers the troops have encountered so far, and regions as yet unexplored. Finally, a route from the lower levels to the surface world is mapped out and labeled “Army’s Path.”

...and that's it. Like the dangers are not enumerated or placed, what the army's path is is not explained. But then so they got someone to draw an illustration of this map--but then it has none of these details on it. "We're going to describe what could've been a really cool thing to show your players and then pay someone to not make it."

-...and, elsewhere, battle plans:

The parchments are hand-drawn maps of Greyhawk, each detailing an alternate plan of attack for the army depending on weather conditions, expected resistance from local forces, and other factors. None of the scenarios seems to bode well for the Free City. Destroying these maps won’t impact the invasion much—they amount to little more than doodles that Bailak has scribbled while away the hours.

-A poison gas trap:

"The gas is magical, so if it is blown or otherwise transported out of this room, it becomes inert and harmless—"

Mandy from the other side of the room: "That's boring."

-A mushroom forest. The mushrooms only come in: poison, valuable, edible or pointless and aren't integrated with any of the other hazards or monsters. Just a simple juxtaposition like mushrooms + purple worm could've turned this into an actual idea.

Yo, Dawg I Heard You Like...:
-Two more invisible monsters--mind flayer, giant.

-Two more beholders. One's technically a "gauth" named Iaxithrax which I don't even have the energy to make a pun about and the other is actually an illusion projected by another monster which might make it better except it's the second beholder librarian in the book which just makes it more of a joke. It's not another invisible beholder librarian though--that would make it a pretty lame illusion plus the designers may have some qualms about pulling all their monsters from the same part of the Venn Diagram.
The score so far
A monster on the next level that just used Ventriloquism to be like "I am an invisible giant naga mind-flayer beholder assassin! begone from my library" would be pretty funny though. I'd run.

-"With the proper incantations, clerics of Nerull could cause the statue to animate, hook into the ceiling with its titanic scythe, and lift the pyramid, allowing access to the tunnel."

-A giant vacuum transporter funnel that takes you to another dungeon level if you can take Gaseous Form. By sucking.

Now that that's over with, The Goods:
-The mind flayer does two interesting things: it uses Suggestion to make the party think a pool of green slime will heal you if you drink it and it doesn't try to kill you, it tries to enslave you so that you go off and help it retake its stolen lair from some other mind flayers elsewhere in the dungeon.

-Likewise there's some kind of pseudo-in-distress demonbabe who tries to trick you (and if that doesn't work, mindfuck you) into going off and finding a spell that can free her. This plus the mind flayer doing it too isn't mindless Venn diagram dungeonpimpery because it sends the PCs roaming off after possibly but not necessarily opposed objectives. Though it would be nice if there were a few more honest-to-god helpful civilians in need in the dungeon so that PCs wouldn't just develop the habit of killing everyone they meet.

-Another interesting thing about the demon babe is she's an enemy of the secretly-evil priestess back in Greyhawk. They both want each other dead, both are bad, and both are powerful and have access to interesting information. If the PCs realize this, there are a lot of possibilities.

-There's a statue with a command word on it. If you say the command word you're trapped inside it (and replaced with its previous dead inhabitant) until someone else says the command word and gets trapped inside. Not near any of the monsters, unfortunately.

-A shrine that, via a gambling mechanic, steals magic items but then gives you either good luck or bad luck.

-A stairwell that you can collapse--the collapse will kill anyone on it and (though the exact way is not specified in the module) force the army to change its plans.

-An angry underlieutenant has notes on all her boss's(Vayne's) fuckups in her room, she's planning to present them to his boss (Iuz) at some point.

-The librarian devil who uses the beholder illusion is actually pretty good--he hides and uses the illusion (which keeps missing them) to try to suss out the PC's tactics and make them waste resources.

-"the verbeegs are unwilling to enter the room as long as the remains of their shaman are visible." 

-Neither of these are so good alone but they are kinda neat, so I give them one point between the two of them: the devil's library has a register of everyone whose ever been in it, including all the villains and several of the major NPCs, and there's a sweet leaf: When grasped tightly by an elf, the leaf transforms into a green key. What lock this key might open is left for you to devise.

... then you fight the boss. Then the boss's boss comes and kills him for failing him, smacks you unanswerably around if you interfere, then that boss is in turn captured by the tentacles of his fake mom. I hope you like to watch.

Thus ends Chapter Five. Score...

Pages: 40
Words: 30,910
Good ideas: 11

...Next up Chapter Six: Some Stuff I Haven't Read Yet.